A study by researchers at the Loyola University Health System found that eating fish, specifically fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, may prevent damage from alcohol-related dementia. The study was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE, and detailed how the compound found in fish oil called omega-3 docsahexaenoic acid (DHA) can protect against alcohol-induced inflammation and the death of neuronal cells.

“Fish oil has the potential of helping preserve brain integrity in chronic alcohol abusers,” said Michael Collins, one of the study’s authors, in a press release. “At the very least, it is unlikely that it would hurt them.”

Collins was quick to warn that although fish oil may prove vital in fighting brain damage caused by alcohol abuse, the best method is still moderation.

“We don’t want people to think it is okay to take a few fish oil capsules and then continue to go on abusing alcohol,” he said.

Scientists have long known that the consumption of omega-3 fish oil can benefit human health, and an unrelated study published earlier this year suggested that a steady diet of fish oil could lower an individual’s chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease. In that study, red blood cell samples were taken from over 1,100 women as part of the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study. The women returned for MRI scans eight years after the initial blood samples were taken, and scientists discovered that participants with the highest level of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood also retained the largest volume of their brains’ hippocampus areas. The hippocampus is one of the first parts of the brain to be damaged by the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Collins and his team similarly found that omega-3 oils can be good for brain health, but in this case as protection against deterioration caused by alcohol abuse. While there were no human participants in this study, Collins and his fellow researchers used cultures of adult rat brain cells for their experiments. They exposed one group of brain cells to high concentrations of alcohol, and subjected another group to the same level of alcohol plus omega-3 docsahexaenoic acid. The group with the fatty acid exposure exhibited 90 percent less inflammation and cell death than the group exposed to just alcohol alone.

“Further studies are needed to confirm whether fish oil protects against alcohol-related cognitive injury and dementia in adult rodent models,” researchers stated in the press release.

It should be noted that consuming too much fish oil can lead to long-term negative side effects, especially depending on an individual’s pre-existing health conditions. The most widely available source of omega-3 fatty acids are fish like halibut, mackerel, salmon, and swordfish. Fish oil is also commonly found in capsule form as a dietary supplement.

Image from [puamelia] on the flickr Creative Commons

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  • Robert S.

    “no human participants in this study”… makes this study.. incomplete and non-conclusive.